The Cleveland Browns have been able to make some major revisions to their roster from last season in the early stages of the offseason, having already added 12 new players that are likely to make the team via a number of signings in free agency as well as some trades.
For all of that, however, they still find themselves with a glaring hole left them at left tackle as a parting gift due to the decision by 11-year veteran Joe Thomas that he would call it a career. Thomas started every game of his career up to the time that he suffered a season-ending injury last season that ended a consecutive snap streak that extended beyond 10,000.
The Browns added a couple of tackles during free agency, though neither of them profile as clear starters at the left tackle position. Head Coach Hue Jackson has said that former Pittsburgh Steelers super sub Chris Hubbard would be given every opportunity to cement himself at right tackle, however, and the player said that he was focused on playing right tackle as well.
Third-year tackle Shonn Coleman was the man who replaced Thomas midseason a year ago and will b e given the opportunity to compete for his right to retain that role, but the Browns intend to explore every option available to them, which includes their other tackle signing in free agency, Donald Stephenson.
An article on the team’s website mentions that they will even consider in the worst-case scenario that no other option works out the possibility of moving veteran left guard Joel Bitonio over to tackle. Listed at 6’4” and 305 pounds, he certainly would not be among the largest players at the position around the league, but he should be able to compete at that size. Kelvin Beachum does.
The same article also mentions that the Browns will likely try to target a tackle during the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft, though that is hardly a surprise. It would not likely be with their first-round draft picks, surely, and it is unclear if they would be able to land a tackle that would provide serious competition to be an opening-day starter as a rookie.
It’s quite evident that Cleveland’s offensive starting lineup will be dramatically different from just a season ago on opening day. Few players who opened last season as starters then will likely do so now, with Bitonio being one of those few exceptions.
The vast majority of those alterations project to be upgrades, but the necessary change at left tackle is certainly not one of them, as in Thomas’ departure they have truly lost a player who was legitimately one of the greatest to ever wear a Browns uniform.
Joe Thomas is probably going to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame player”, Jackson said of him. “It’ll be hard to replace him and what he’s meant to the football team, what he’s meant to the organization, to the city”. He concluded, in the only way that one could, by saying, “you don’t replace those guys right away”.